Associate Professor Dr. Michael Schwartz, a deaf lawyer, is an associate professor of law and has been the director of the Disability Rights Clinic in the Office of Clinical Legal Education at the Syracuse University College of Law since August 2004. Schwartz received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Brandeis University and a Master of Arts degree in Theater Arts from Northwestern University. Schwartz has just received a Fulbright research award to study at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. The focus of his study will be the experiences of deaf patients in the health care field, with a particular focus on mental health services. The Disability Discrimination Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provide the legal framework for analysis. Dr. Michael Schwartz is presenting in American Sign Language.
Plenary title & abstract
The Professional and the Personal: Some Reflections on Mental Health Care for Deaf People
Born profoundly deaf to a hearing family, Michael Schwartz struggled with identity and stigma associated with being deaf in an aural and oral world. He tried to solve the problem by rejecting his deafness and pretending to be like his hearing older brother, but this approach caused him great psychic pain (“the hole in my soul”). What filled the hole in Schwartz’s soul were two developments in his life: his long-term therapy with an Argentinean psychiatrist, and learning sign language which enabled him to come to terms with his deafness.
Within the historical context of pre-ADA America, Michael Schwartz weaves his own "story" with that of Deaf people’s continuing struggle for communication access in all venues, including mental health services. Schwartz's process of self-identification, acceptance and connection to the Deaf cultural community is the model for government's acceptance of shared responsibility for communication access for Deaf people under the UN CRPD and domestic law.
However, as Schwartz observes, true belonging in the world – a crucial aspect of good mental health – remains problematic because social policies and practices operate to marginalize Deaf people. Sign language is not universal, and many, if not most, therapists cannot sign fluently. This communication barrier has troubling ramifications for the accessibility of mental health services for many Deaf people. So while Michael Schwartz and other Deaf people can fill the hole in their souls, only transformation in social policies and practices that lead to effective accessibility can create true belonging for the Deaf community.